John and Julie Gottman are relationship experts that I often refer to. The Gottman's are famous for a term called The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and it's something that has helped me personally in my relationships a great deal.
In this minisode I break down The Four Horsemen, give examples, as well as point to a resource that will help you and possibly your partner learn the antidotes for these common relationship behaviors. It’s simple, yet profound.
You know how I love a good personal development book, right? I’ve compiled a list of book recommendations, as mentioned in past episodes. Check out these amazing book recommendations here. Happy reading!
You're listening to Make Some Noise minisode number 457.
Welcome to Make Some Noise Podcast, your guide for strategies, tools and insight to empower yourself. I'm your host, Andrea Owen, global speaker, entrepreneur, life coach since 2007, and author of three books that have been translated into 18 languages and are available in 22 countries. Each week, I'll bring you a guest or a lesson that will help you maximize unshakable confidence, master resilience and make some noise in your life. You ready? Let's go.
Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of the podcast minisode. I hope that you are well and I hope that your summer is going fantastic so far. We are rounding out the end of our relationships, theme. We're moving into what are we moving into spirituality and creativity. I'm excited about that. It's I've got an eclectic bunch coming for you. A motley crew, if you will. But as we're closing out relationships, I wanted to dive in a little bit around something that I've mentioned on the podcast probably many, many times, partly because this particular work has helped me so much in my personal life in my relationship, my relationship with my husband, I should say. And because I just admire John Gottman ‘s work so much, John and Julie Gottman his wife. I think it's brilliant. He has decades of experience. And he is the person who is, I guess he's kind of famous for this, he is able to, you know, by watching an interaction with a couple, I believe he watches an interaction that is a topic that the couple kind of goes around and around about like, you know, the one thing that you just snag and you keep, you can't come to a conclusion about you find yourself arguing about, he watches that interaction and how the couple talks to each other and how they behave towards each other and their body language and things like that and he can predict whether the relationship will work or not. And so to simplify what he actually looks for, a long time ago he created what he calls the four horsemen of the apocalypse and they are criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling.
And so I am going to summarize an article that I found on Gottman.com. This is by a brilliant human being named Ellie Lisista. hope I'm pronouncing her name correctly. Is it Lisista? I think it's Lisista. My apologies, la if you're listening to this, and I pronounced your name incorrectly. I'm going to link to this particular article, as well as another one that she links to where they talk about the antidotes for the four horsemen. It's not just like, here's the problem, good luck with life, which you know, I can't stand. It's here's the problem and here's the antidotes. Here's how here's how to fix it.
So let's start with criticism. It's interesting, the way that she explains it, and here is a little bit different than what I thought criticism was, what I thought he was referring to criticism was. Turns out, I'm actually pleased because what I do is complaining according to this article, not criticize. So she really talks about criticizing your partner is a little bit different than offering a critique or complaining about something. So like a complaint might be like, say your partner is, you know, like an hour late coming home from work. And previously, this has bothered you and you had always asked like, can you just send me a text, or call me if you are running late, just to let me know. And say it happens and they didn't call or text and they come home and you said ‘I was mildly freaking out when you were running late. You didn't call. I thought we had agreed that you would do that, that we agreed that we would do that for each other’. That's a complaint.
A criticism would sound like this, and I'm quoting what her example here she says, ‘you never think about how your behavior is affecting other people. I don't believe you are that forget forgetful, you're just selfish. You never think of others. You never think of me’. So that is criticism. You see how they're different. And of course, like I was being a little bit dramatic when I read this article. Added a little bit more of a charge to it. But she goes on to say that, you know, I think everyone could criticises in that manner from time to time, especially if you're in a place of being very scared, or hurt, or extremely frustrated.
But part of her point here is that you're not doomed if you use criticism in your relationship where your partner uses criticism towards you, it's that if it becomes pervasive, it can actually turn into a pattern and that turns into contempt, which is the second horseman which is like this. Contempt is partly body language. So it's eye rolling, it is, you know, crossing your arms over your chest with a big sigh, it's mockery, it's making fun of them with you know, being harshly passive, aggressive, sarcastic, ridicule, name calling, mimicking them, scoffing disrespect, it's just being mean. It's being mean, being a total asshole. And that what she says in this, I think sentence really sums it up. She says ‘the target of contempt is made to feel despised and worthless’. And let me tell you something, I will admit in my former relationship to my ex-husband, I used contempt when I was at my wit's end. When I was so desperate to have some kind of behavior that would make me feel like I had some kind of power and control over him, I would use contempt, I am ashamed to admit it but I was in such a place of ill communication, of just not grasping at straws and not knowing how to behave. And Gottman’s research shows that couples who are contemptuous of each other are more likely to not only have a terrible relationship, but more likely to have infectious illnesses, colds, flus, things like that. So it's not good for your immune system. But contempt is the single greatest predictor of divorce. It's contempt. I thought it was stonewalling. But it's not it's contempt, which doesn't surprise me. And I can think of, of some couples, I can think of one couple I know they've been married for decades there. They're a little older than me. And there's contempt by one of the partners, and it's just painful to watch. We all know it when we see it. And yep, so it's not surprised that I'm not married to that person anymore. Not surprising at all.
The third one is defensiveness is typically a response to criticism, this was my ex-husband’s MO, and it typically happens when the person feels like they are unjustly accused or looking for excuses, they play the innocent victim, so that they can just kind of get out of the situation so their partner will leave them alone, and often they don't take responsibility, no responsibility at all. So here's the example that she that she gives. So one partner says ‘did you call Betty and Ralph to let them know we're not coming to the party tonight like you told me you were going to call them this morning’. And the partner says, ‘I was just too busy today. As a matter of fact, you know, just how busy my schedule is, why didn't you just do it?’ So there's actually two things happening in this example. So the partner is you know, making an excuse and responding defensively. But they're also reversing the blame. Their like putting the blame on the other person. I can't freakin’ stand that. Can't stand that. There are some particular teenage children that I know of though, that will remain unnamed that do this and I will point that out so fast. It's like no, no, this isn't my fault. You need to take some responsibility. How would we take responsibility for that? Okay, so what it might sound like instead of that defensive response, an example is ‘oops, I completely forgot, I spaced. I should have asked you this morning to do it because I knew my day was back-to-back and it was packed. That's my fault. Let me let me stop right now and call them immediately’. So of course you're gonna forget things like you're gonna want to defend yourself if you if you have sometimes we have noble excuses. But when we are putting the blame on the other person when we're constantly coming up with excuses, when we are almost like telling the other person what they want to hear that can get involved too. It just it doesn't work. So Ellie says ‘defensiveness will not only escalate the conflict if the critical spouse or partner does not back down or apologize. This is because defensiveness is really a way of blaming your partner and it won't allow for healthy conflict management’. Yikes.
All right. And the last one is stonewalling. Which is usually a response to contempt and I would argue it's also probably a response to criticism as well. Stonewalling occurs when the partner completely shuts down from the conversation, they will either stop responding to their partner, they will walk away, they will get in the car and drive off, leave the room rather than talking it out. And you know, they turn away from their partner instead of turning towards, and they aren't aggressive or hostile or anything like that, they just are pretty much like I'm out and they walk away. So Gottman talks about something called physiologically flooded, which is so fascinating to me. And I've mentioned it a few times here on the podcast. It's when you are in a whether it's an uncomfortable conversation or a heated argument, or a full on like screaming match, when your heart rate gets above, I believe it's like 100 or something, it's not extraordinarily high. But the flooding means that the blood is rushing away to our vital organs and muscles and away from our brain, especially the part of our brain that is responsible for logical thinking for speech, etc. And this is why when we are in a confrontation or something like that, like maybe at work or something, an hour later, we think of all the best comebacks all of the best responses to say that are smart and witty, and all of the things that we wish we would have thought of. The reason is that we couldn't do it when we were in the moment because of psychological flooding. Excuse me, physiological flooding. And this is why stonewalling happens. Because the person is flooded, and they just have to walk away. And it's also probably they might have some trauma and maybe some childhood trauma that they are triggered and they just need to walk away.
And so for this one, I am going to talk to you about what the antidote is. And please go to the show notes and click on the link for the second article where she talks about some really practical advice of how to not do these four horsemen or do these behaviors anymore. But the one about stonewalling is to, if you are the stonewaller is to articulate it and say I am too angry, or I am too overwhelmed or whatever it is that you're feeling to continue to have this conversation. I love you and I want to continue this, I just cannot do it right in this moment. I'm going to take, fill in the blank, however long you need, I'm going to take 30 minutes, and we'll come back to it or can we come back to it later on tonight. The key really is to have enough respect for your partner and for your relationship to come back to the conversation. This is not an out for you to just not be able to return. And when you are calm when you have gathered your thoughts, if you have to make bullet points, if you have to write out a script, if you have to meditate, whatever it is that you need to do, then you can go back and have the conversation when you're in a place to do so.
So I hope that was helpful. The little explanation, because I mentioned it all the time. And if you don't know now, you know. And again, the link to both the article that I was summarizing as well as the anecdotes are going to be in the show notes. I'm also going to put a link for, there's a link on the Gottman website about being physiologically flooded, which again, I think so interesting. So interesting. Yay for science. All right, everyone. Thank you so much for listening.
Hey, if you are interested in the Daring Way retreat, there is one room left that is a solo room. The rest of the rooms left are going to be in the bunk room. Maybe you love that. Maybe you love to have a feel like summer camp, but shout out again. Jackie at the Orlando airport. I mentioned that in a couple episodes ago. I was buying peanut M&M’s and this woman comes up to me and says are you Andrea Owen and I was like yes. And I thought she was at the speaking event that I was just speaking at, the audience, and I was like, oh, she must have been at Think Better Live Better. She's like no, I was doesn't even matter. She recognized me. She's a podcast listener and she said she was thinking about signing up for the retreat and she ended up signing up. Yay, Jackie can't wait to have you. She took the second to last solo room. So I'm just saying, you guys, if you want to come and you want a solo room and has a queen bed, it's going to be in Asheville, North Carolina in September, which is gorgeous out there. Head over to AndreaOwen.com/retreat and any questions, feel free to reach out to us.
All right, everyone. I will see you next week with a brand-new episode. And remember, it's our life's journey to make ourselves better humans and our life's responsibility to make the world a better place. Bye for now.